DNA methylation-based profiling of horse archaeological remains for age-at-death and castration

  • publication
  • 05-02-2023

Liu X, Seguin-Orlando A, Chauvey L, Tressières G, Schiavinato S, Tonasso-Calvière L, Aury JM, Perdereau A, Wagner S, Clavel P, Estrada O, Pan J, Ma Y, Enk J, Devault A, Klunk J, Lepetz S, Clavel B, Jiang L, Wincker P, Collin YRH, Sarkissian C, Orlando L. iScience vol. 26,3 106144. 5 Feb. 2023, doi:10.1016/j.isci.2023.106144

Age profiling of archaeological bone assemblages can inform on past animal management practices, but is limited by the fragmentary nature of the fossil record and the lack of universal skeletal markers for age. DNA methylation clocks offer new, albeit challenging, alternatives for estimating the age-at-death of ancient individuals. Here, we take advantage of the availability of a DNA methylation clock based on 31,836 CpG sites and dental age markers in horses to assess age predictions in 84 ancient remains. We evaluate our approach using whole-genome sequencing data and develop a capture assay providing reliable estimates for only a fraction of the cost. We also leverage DNA methylation patterns to assess castration practice in the past. Our work opens for a deeper characterization of past husbandry and ritual practices and holds the potential to reveal age mortality profiles in ancient societies, once extended to human remains.

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